Life can be serious business.

In His Honor — I Surrender to Vulnerability.

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“It was a gift he gave to you wasn’t it?”

I looked at my therapist dumbfounded.

A gift? How could she say that? There is no silver lining in someone that I love being murdered. I don’t understand how she thinks I could have possibly benefitted in any way from this tragedy.

***

A month before my cousin was murdered, I started therapy again with a woman who is very skilled in trauma-informed recovery, to help me work through an increase in PTSD symptoms. With feet that are always bare, she radiated peace. She taught me how to breath through anxiety and frustration. She reminded me that I am safe now, each time my body responded to a memory with tension.

About a month in to our work, we began digging in to the trauma that was my childhood using EFT tapping, also known as psychological acupressure. It was awkward at first but halfway through the session I started to sink in to the motions.

When I returned the next week, my therapist had an unusual posture and air about her. She said, “I have to be honest with you. I have been doing trauma work for many, many years and I have never seen anyone respond to EFT the way you did.” I thought Oh that must mean I did something right!

She continued on to say, “I watched you going through the motions, but there was no emotion or reaction at all. You didn’t do anything wrong, I’m just trying to understand your response and what is blocking you. You show incredible insight and resilience with what you say, but I’m feeling like despite that, I am getting very little to no emotion or feeling from you.”

Immediately, I responded with “Well, I think…”

“Stop right there” she said. “I’m asking you to feel, not think. How do you feel right now and where in your body do you feel it?”

I became frustrated right away. What does she mean?

I told her that it’s very difficult for me to hear her say I have no emotion. I am a very emotional person. I pride myself on my sensitivity and ability to empathize. I’ve built a life and career out of these strengths and I’m not sure where she is coming from.

“Dawn, you rationalize instead of feel when it comes to you. You keep yourself safe by staying in your brain. You learned at a very young age to disassociate from what you’re feeling in order to survive. You knew how to protect yourself and that is a miracle. But you don’t have to do that anymore. This coping mechanism has allowed you to tap in to helping others heal, just not yourself. You empathize for others, but not yourself. In order for you to work through the trauma, you are going to have to give yourself permission to feel.”

Her comment left me confused, angry, sad and defeated. I knew she was right. And it was a physical feeling that assured me of that–the tightness of my muscles, the hotness in my chest and shoulders, my short breathing pattern. Anxiety–the high alertness that I function on. It’s the one feeling I recognize within myself as confirmation of something–vulnerability. And I felt incredibly vulnerable in that moment.

***

It was less than a week after that session when I got the call that my cousin was maliciously and methodically murdered. I walked around that evening in a complete fucking haze. I didn’t cry and I could barely talk. I eventually took something to help me sleep.

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As the sun began to beam through the window above my bed, tears began to pour from my barely opened eyes. The realization of what I was told yesterday hit me like a direct blow to my chest. I sobbed. I knew I had to travel back to my home town for his funeral, even though that meant coming face to face with my childhood traumas, including my abuser.

***

As I started to see the Georgia red clay out the airplane window, the pins and needles started to race up my arms. I began mentally preparing to barricade my tears. I had to be strong for the those who are hurting, unaware of what I was denying myself of in the process.

Stepping inside the funeral home, I saw more familiar faces than I ever cared to see. It’s not that I don’t care about these people, it’s just easier to live my life across the country from them because to no fault of their own, they trigger me. I’ve stayed away from this place and these people because my mental stability has depended on it.

Despite that, I passed out hugs and offered my shoulder to catch tears because I wanted to help others hurt less. When I spotted my abuser across the room, I froze. I fled to the bathroom and tried to ward off the burning in my chest with deep breathes and an internal pep talk.

Don’t lose it, Dawn! You need to stay strong.

I walked out of the bathroom as they were inviting family in to a private room to view the body. There he was. Lying there so still. I held his sister and father as sorrow seeped out of their every pore. My body shook as I tried to hold it together. All the memories became an avalanche on my heart and my mind began to release it’s grip.

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The pain and grief I felt in that moment extended from my heart to my entire body. I could feel myself losing it. The childhood memories, the only good ones I have, involve the young man that is now lying lifeless in front of me. I wanted to run out of there. I wanted to run as fast as I could away from the vulnerability bubbling to the surface.

I don’t know what my uncle was thinking when he reached for me in that moment. He looked into what I imagine were hollow eyes. Being the only positive male role model in my life, I felt security and protection as he hugged me. He said, “It’s ok to cry.” A stubborn fear of feeling was shattered by his permission to grieve, and I came undone.

***

It’s been almost seven months since my cousin’s passing and my journey back to my roots. Many, many tears have fallen since that time. Tears for his life, and mine. Anger has crept in and out. Sorrow has brought me to my knees. Memories have at times flooded me with emotion; I have accepted them, unapologetically.

There is truth in my therapists observation. My cousin did give me a gift. The loss of his life has left a gaping hole in my heart, but in his passing, he gifted my spirit with permission to feel – the pain, the love, the angst, the truth.

So now, when I recognize my old patterns creeping in, and I find myself fighting to feel, I give in. I strip off the emotional armor and embrace the moment — good, bad or ugly. Randall had a way of always making me feel safe. As I carry heavy grief with me on this day, the day he would have turned 34 yrs old, I will not let myself check-out any longer. In his honor, I will feel — without fear.

Happy Birthday, Houston.
Happy Birthday, Houston. xoxo
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Don't take life too serious., Life can be serious business.

What I Know for Sure About the Healing Journey.

Learning how to tune in, and not check out, is vital to healing. Whether it be a loss, trauma, a negative experience or just a bad day, your own willingness to heal, learn and evolve is the most potent drug on the market.

I still have a lot to learn on this journey of healing, but I’ve learned a lot along the way. I have to remind myself often that “Every tool is a weapon, if you hold it right”. So for my sake and for those on this journey to heal with me, I’m going to put my own arsenal on display, as a reminder to myself how far I’ve come, and in hopes of helping others on the path they too are walking.

We all have what it takes.
We all have what it takes.

Our minds come with dead bolts, that can only be unlocked once we feel safe. This is grace, but it doesn’t always feel that way. On a day when you feel “put together”, you can fall apart. At unexplainable times of simple happiness, darkness can flood from your pores. It’s frustrating, but no accident. It is not a sign that you are broken or weak. It’s confirmation that you are stronger than you were yesterday. Only when the mind feels you can handle what is behind the locked door, will it allow you to experience it.

Distraction from ourselves is the false art of healing. But it is what so many of us use as a defense mechanism. Whether it be with work, kids, chores, substances or taking on the responsibility of solving everyone else’s problems. We are conditioned to use any and everything to keep our inner most truths and triggers on mute. There is power and control in coasting, but there is liberation in awareness. It just hurts more. It’s hard to be quiet and sometimes impossible to be still. Many crave both, but once gifted with it, will shut down as if allergic to it. There is protection in busyness, because a quiet mind leaves one vulnerable to self reflection. By tuning out what we are really feeling, we are denying the opportunity to heal. Tune In!

Stigma is a powerful defense against self care. It’s the hand that feeds shame. No one is immune to it’s crushing depth, even those trained to combat it. The stigma (others seeing you as living in the past, wanting attention, not strong enough, etc) that keeps us from speaking up and reaching out, is one more hurdle to fight. The good news is there is a powerful tool one can use to fight this fight. It’s your voice. You may have to go searching for it, and it may shake a little (or a lot) at first. When you first begin to speak your truths, the stigma you feel will sting like dirt on an open wound. It’s worth it. The more you speak about what was done to you, empowerment will begin to override the pain. You will find strength in your vulnerability, if you work at sharpening the tool you already own.

There is a specific alley of healing that most walk down. I call it check-out alley. To some, myself included, intoxication is key to checking out. It’s a way to create a different version of yourself. A version where the “real” you leads, and the “broken” you gets to take the back seat for once. At the tale end of a buzz, greed and despair become one. Self medicating leaves one with a vacancy of pain. A temporary relief disguised as bliss. The ease of life and laughter flowing through my viens when I check out is a survivors false paradise. But false is exactly what it is. If we don’t figure out a way to get to that state of mind, without first walking through check-out alley, healing will never be an option. Knowing this is the easy part, avoiding that avenue is something I am still working on.

Triggers are the windows to the pieces of us that still need healing. A trigger can be a smell, song, touch, scene in a movie, hearing a certain name…really anything that your mind associates with personal experiences. When we are triggered, our brains go into “loop” mode. Our body re-experiences the feelings, both emotionally and physically, of a moment in our past. These are moments worth inspecting. The only way to deactivate the trigger is to ask ourselves, why did that moment make me feel like I want to cry, punch something, run away, freeze, etc? Healing begins when we are able to recognize those moments and answer they whys.

Healing is a mind and body experience. I’ve worked in the field of mental health for almost ten years. In the trenches, always hands on with the population I am serving. I read countless charts, observe a vast array of dysfunctional behaviors and thought processes, empathically experience peoples stories and see many highs and lows on the path of recovery. I have witnessed the body as the mind’s canvas. People wear their stories and traumas. I observe, both personally and in my line of work, how making the connection to patterns of behaviors and thoughts can lead to physical healing. If we don’t accept that what happened to us affects the way we act and feel, the negative energies we harvest will manifest as illness. Often times unexplainably. There are consequences when we ignore the signs. No differently than having “just one more drink”, when we are having a good time. If we ignore that little voice and our already unsteady feet, we will get sick. It’s that simple, but never easy.

Reaching out, will lift you up. As much as we want to “do it on our own”, and prove to ourselves that we are stronger than what is holding us down, we can’t. I’ve fallen face first on the pavement many times trying to convince myself that I can succeed on this journey alone. There needs to be equal parts insight and willingness to learn from others. Find your tribe and use them. The people in your life, whether it be professionals, family, friends or someone you just met, all have something unique to offer you on your journey. Connection to those that share your experience, or are vested in seeing you smile are vital pieces to getting through the maze. Use them.

We are all faced with unfortunate experiences in our lives, whether they are horrific acts against us, unfortunate events that happen to us or because of poor decisions we or someone else makes. Regardless of the root of the pain, we need to be able to use the tools we all possess to move forward. It’s not a matter of living in the past, but rather being vulnerable enough to investigate our past, to improve our future.

Life can be serious business.

A Loss That Lent Itself to Life.

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Grief is such a peculiar emotion. It is ever present and takes many different forms and tones. Time doesn’t heal it, only changes it. It’s a wound that scabs but never scars. I lost my mother 18 years ago today. And now, I am pondering if that heart wrenching loss is what ultimate gave me life.

This anniversary creeps up on me every year and every year I experience it differently. This year I feel like I’m running from it. Twice today (so far) I’ve fought back tears. Instead of just letting the grief out, I pushed it to the side. A “not now” moment. As I was making lunch for my son, he decided it would be a good idea to climb on his little table so that he could stand on the four inch window sill. As I was telling him to “Get your crazy butt down, you’re going to get hurt!”, he fell. I dropped the peanut butter jar and ran to scoop him up.

As I sat holding my baby boy, he stopped crying pretty quickly but seemed to tighten his grip around my neck. He nuzzled his head in to that perfect nook between my head and shoulder and just hugged me. It’s like he knew. He knew I was the one that really needed to be held. He gave me permission to feel my own hurt and I couldn’t hold back the tears pooling in my eyes. He didn’t even budge as I squeezed him harder, cried and rocked to soothe us both.

Eighteen years ago I lost my mom to cancer but since birth, I never really had her. My grief is deeper than the physical loss of her body. It is a loss of her presence in my life. My grief is shaped around a hole that a constant maternal love never filled. Her name, Constance, is incredibly ironic for that reason. For reasons that I will never truly understand, my mother wasn’t able to fill the role of mom to me. Drugs, alcohol and mental illness all played a part in that, but I know there was more than just those at play. I know there was a hole in her own heart, I just don’t know why.

wpid-img_20150108_153948554.jpgI only know what I know and that is that out of three children my grandparents raised, one committed suicide, one stepped out on her family and even reality at times and the other is living a life so full of dysfunction no one wants him within a ten foot radius. I’m not mad at the grandparents I never knew or my mother. I can look at myself and my own siblings and understand the power of being born with resilience. She, unfortunately, just didn’t get that gene. My mom was a survivor, but never knew which fights were worth fighting for.

My grief has changed over the years. Reaching milestones like graduating highschool and college and getting married shaped it and caused me to miss her in many different ways. Nothing has molded my grief more than having children of my own. Becoming a motherless mom. Raising them, being present in their lives, understanding the importance of being a role model, planting empowering seeds and even letting them see me fall — all of these things trigger grief and love and heartache and hope. It all stems from the relationship, or lack thereof, with my own mother. The anniversary of my mother’s death brings all that to the front of my heart and mine. I was 15 when she died. No where near old enough to become her friend yet, but ready to finally get to know her. It was a place in time that it could have finally been possible, had fucking cancer not taken her away from me.

Time doesn’t make grief easier. It only changes it. Sometimes, it can even make it harder. Time offers growth. Growth forces you to look at the events that have played out in your life, and face the connections that they created.

The string of events, including Mom’s diagnosis of cancer played a part in my removal from a toxic, abusive situation. Her sickness, may have in fact, been my saving grace. It put her in a stable environment and gave my guardian an excuse to send me away, to Mom, after I disclosed her husband had been sexually abusing me for the past eight years. Off I went, to live with my mother for the first time since I was two years old. Thankfully, my sister (who is 12 years older than me) was a part of this plot. She was the rock in my mother’s life at that time and she soon became mine.

When Mom died, my sister was left to raise me. A lost and very damaged 15 year old girl. That end result, however sad and difficult as it was for both of us, set the foundation for the blessed life I have today. I sometimes wonder, in my mother death, was I given the chance to finally live? As I type that out loud, my stomach is twisting, my heart is racing and my mind is truly overwhelmed. It’s a thought I can’t bear to keep but can’t seem to erase.

Perhaps it is the craziest and most cruel thought I have ever had, but it is the only sense I can make of her death, and the cruel timing in which it happened. They say everything happens for a reason and I fucking hate that saying to be honest with you. Even so, I can’t help but feel that her death is connected to an act of love. The kind of love only a mother can have for her children. A love that I didn’t understand then, but do now.

Today, at 33 years old, I sit in silence and let my fingers work through my grief. It will continue to wear many faces today. I will continue to have moments of strength and moments of raw heartache. My grief, a scab that feels ripped open, that hurts and heals me, has once again transformed. I know it will continue to do so. As does my acceptance and understanding of this day, every year.

Life can be serious business.

Grieving 64 Candles – Happy Birthday, Momma.

Today you’d be turning 64. I’m not sure if we would have had a party for you. I can’t say we would have gathered like a normal family, while you played with your grandchildren. It’s a picture I like to believe was possible. One that under normal circumstances would be predictable. Then again, nothing about your life was predictable.

I’ve learned more about you since you have been gone, but still feel like a huge piece is missing. When did it all start to unravel for you? Who dropped the ball and failed to reach out to you? Why didn’t you ever reach for the hands that did?

I walked into your childhood bedroom this summer. If only walls could talk. I have a fitful rage to know what it was like for you. To unravel your story, so that I can see where the direction my life took began. Drug abuse, alcoholism, mental illness, inability to parent, not seeing yourself worthy enough of love until the very end…that doesn’t stem from no where.

I have such a good life. And that is why my heart breaks for the life you lost. Not just since you’ve been gone, but I get the sense, since the day you were born – today. There must have been love around you – I’ve seen your baby pictures and they are ones of proud parents and a beautiful baby girl, but the photos never tell the whole story. You are no longer here to tell me your story. That’s what I grieve the most. the inability to acknowledging your story.

What I can’t see, I feel inside. I know there was a survivor’s strength fueling your wild heart. I have that light. Your granddaughter has that light. I just pray she won’t ever have to go looking for it, like we did. Maybe the generational cycle of dysfunction is ending with me. I can only hope.

The difficulties your survived, while you tried to find your place in the world have not been forsaken. The movement forward you made in your short time here, travels on with my soul. I love you, Momma. Cheers to you – the life you lived and the life you gave me.

Fiction

Her Last Chance.

A despairing film covers her eyes, blocking sight of arms reaching for her. She’s twisted in pain, unable to absorb love. Really see her. See her hidden scars. Suspend her grief. Her mind is teetering that fine line. It’s up to you.

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Do you see her much?

Click the badge to learn more about the Gargleblasher challenge over at Yeah Write!

I just missed the link up this week! I went to upload an image and lost my spot! Urrrrrgh…oh it’s on next week 🙂

Life can be serious business.

Motherless Mom.

I tend to express more grief on the day my
mother was born than the day that she died.  A little
baby girl entered the world as innocent as my own,  and then
endured four lifetimes worth of struggle in 46 short years. 
That’s a tough pill for me to swallow.  Even harder because
I am her baby girl.  Having said that,
today marks the eve of her death 17 years ago and I am missing her
terribly.  It’s always the days leading up to anniversaries
and holidays that are the hardest for me.  In honor of her,
myself and other Motherless Moms, I wanted
to share this post I wrote early on.  I tried
to capture the essence of losing her and what it means to me at
this point in my life. 6455_1190790687614_1163766376_30564651_1135391_n For me, it’s hard to find
the words to convey what it is like to be a Motherless
daughter.  It means something different at every stage in my
life.  Hope Edelman wrote in her book “Motherless
Daughters”
about wanting to shout
to everyone that her mom died
because it sums up so much of who she is.  I get
that. The only thing that has impacted me greater than losing
my Mom at the age of 15 has been becoming a Mom myself. Not all of
thsadness comes from not having that
person who you know above all would answer your call or would
have a piece of advice whether or not you want it.  My
sadness has morphed in to comprehending the absence of time
needed to know your mom beyond being your Mom.  My
Mother was a beautiful kind of chaos.  A kind of chaos
that rears it’s fury all over my own thoughts, reactions and
emotions.   I know it’s there…I can feel the
connection.  I just wish I could
see it in her eyes these days. 
That my daughter could see the common
fragile thread that exists between me and the woman that
created me so that when she gets older, she’ll be able to not
only see but understand and embrace
the kind
of crazy
we share. My Mother’s battle with mental
illness and addictions prevented her version of mothering to be
found in any how-to book; however, I still crave to know what her
answers would have been to the questions I need to ask her about
how I am suppose to mother. 
It’s unsettling that no matter how dysfunctional
or even neglectful your Mother may be, you still
love her and want her in your life.  She is the first
piece of my story and it is the piece I know the least about
because of the point in my, and her ,life when I lost her. No
body goes to a school and learns the tricks of the trade on
parenting but most have that go-to professor she calls
Mom.  That’s the void that I live with in my heart. 
However, I have been blessed with women landing in my life for
reasons I am just now starting to really understand.  Women
that if were asked to gather in a small space, would form
a shape that fits perfectly inside the void in my heart left
when my Mom died.   These women have molded me by
offering divinely designed doses of lessons my Mom may or may not
have been able to teach me… had she had enough time. These
women, have taken many forms.  A sister that cared for me (and
still does) when there was no body left to do the job and
that understood that her sheer presence in my life was a
matter of tipping the scales towards history NOT repeating
itself.  A teacher who created lesson plans out of thin
air just so she could carry me under her wing for a little
while longer.  A co-worker and friend that gave me a
glimpse of what recovery could have looked like for my own Mother
and shared her many lessons learned along the way.  A coach
that hugged me and then told me to get up when I fell and try
harder.  A friend that no matter how dark or mundane it gets,
has the power to raise me up and keep me laughing.  A boss
that didn’t accept my judgments of people presenting weaker than me
and pointed my heart in the right direction to help instead of
judge.  A college professor that supported my quest to
identify a diagnosis that best suited my Mother’s actions and
personality.  Not one but two single Moms who
opened their doors to me when I rebelled the hardest and
needed love the most.  A soul sister’s Mother who embodied
what a Mother should look like and taught me the power of
prayer.  And a woman, my Mother’s,
brother’s daughter, who by no coincidence, I connected
with to ensure that I knew I was not alone. So Mom…I say
this to you with a broken but healing heart.  I
understand why you couldn’t be the one to parent and/or, in
the flesh, support me in parenting my own.  The only
beauty in your departure has been the grace in which these other
Moms have and continue to imprint my life.  I have grown
from a Mother-less daughter to a daughter or many Mothers.

Life can be serious business.

Motherless Mom.

6455_1190790687614_1163766376_30564651_1135391_n
For me, it’s hard to find the words to convey what it is like to be a Motherless daughter.  It means something different at every stage in my life.  Hope Edelman wrote in her book “Motherless Daughters” about wanting to shout to everyone that her mom died because it sums up so much of who she is.  I get that. The only thing that has impacted me greater than losing my Mom at the age of 15 has been becoming a Mom myself.

Not all of thsadness comes from not having that person who you know above all would answer your call or would have a piece of advice whether or not you want it.  My sadness has morphed in to comprehending the absence of time needed to know your mom beyond being your Mom.  My Mother was a beautiful kind of chaos.  A kind of chaos that rears it’s fury all over my own thoughts, reactions and emotions.   I know it’s there…I can feel the connection.  I just wish I could see it in her eyes these days.  That my daughter could see the common fragile thread that exists between me and the woman that created me so that when she gets older, she’ll be able to not only see but understand and embrace the kind of crazy we share.

My Mother’s battle with mental illness and addictions prevented her version of mothering to be found in any how-to book; however, I still crave to know what her answers would have been to the questions I need to ask her about how I am suppose to mother.  It’s unsettling that no matter how dysfunctional or even neglectful your Mother may be, you still love her and want her in your life.  She is the first piece of my story and it is the piece I know the least about because of the point in my, and her ,life when I lost her.

No body goes to a school and learns the tricks of the trade on parenting but most have that go-to professor she calls Mom.  That’s the void that I live with in my heart.  However, I have been blessed with women landing in my life for reasons I am just now starting to really understand.  Women that if were asked to gather in a small space, would form a shape that fits perfectly inside the void in my heart left when my Mom died.   These women have molded me by offering divinely designed doses of lessons my Mom may or may not have been able to teach me… had she had enough time.

These women, have taken many forms.  A sister that cared for me (and still does) when there was no body left to do the job and that understood that her sheer presence in my life was a matter of tipping the scales towards history NOT repeating itself.  A teacher who created lesson plans out of thin air just so she could carry me under her wing for a little while longer.  A co-worker and friend that gave me a glimpse of what recovery could have looked like for my own Mother and shared her many lessons learned along the way.  A coach that hugged me and then told me to get up when I fell and try harder.  A friend that no matter how dark or mundane it gets, has the power to raise me up and keep me laughing.  A boss that didn’t accept my judgments of people presenting weaker than me and pointed my heart in the right direction to help instead of judge.  A college professor that supported my quest to identify a diagnosis that best suited my Mother’s actions and personality.  Not one but two single Moms who opened their doors to me when I rebelled the hardest and needed love the most.  A soul sister’s Mother who embodied what a Mother should look like and taught me the power of prayer.  And a woman, my Mother’s, brother’s daughter, who by no coincidence, I connected with to ensure that I knew I was not alone.

So Mom…I say this to you with a broken but healing heart.  I understand why you couldn’t be the one to parent and/or, in the flesh, support me in parenting my own.  The only beauty in your departure has been the grace in which these other Moms have and continue to imprint my life.  I have grown from a Mother-less daughter to a daughter or many Mothers.